Here’s What Only True Gearheads Know About The 1963 Ford Thunderbird Sport Roadster | Rare Techy


The 1963 Ford Thunderbird Sports Roadster is a special and unusual rarity in the world of classic cars. To some, it may look like just about any other American car from the era, but the simple idea that such a large car only seats two makes this T-Bird both iconic and impractical. By the early 1960s, the Thunderbird nameplate had taken on a life of its own.

In fact, the name alone was so meaningful that Ford had even considered creating an entirely different division called Thunderbird, not just in the model range. The Sports Roadster was a crazy, reckless display of FoMoCo’s faith in the T-Bird lineup, and while it didn’t sell particularly well, it still stands out.

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What Ford was trying to achieve with the Thunderbird Sports Roadster

1963 Ford Thunderbird Sports Roadster

The Thunderbird Sports Roadster was a special breed first introduced in 1961 for the 1962 model year. At this point in the model’s history, the whole package was inflated thicker than a nitrogen balloon at some 1990s rave. The once classy little roadster had been bloated ever since for sales potential. The main reason for this factor is that in 1955-1957 The original Thunderbirds of 2010 proved quite popular for FoMoCo and had easily outsold the competing Chevrolet Corvette during its initial run. In fact, 15,631 were sold in the Thunderbird’s first model year in 1955. In contrast, the Chevrolet Corvette only managed 700 units that year despite the introduction of the legendary 265ci V8.

Interestingly, Ford had never advertised the Thunderbird as a sports car. Instead, they chose the term “personal car” to avoid the strong criticism that was mercilessly leveled at the Corvette’s competitor. The strategy worked, but so did the slightly cheaper price tag of the car, and a legend was born. This success was finally extended for the 1958 model year, when then-Ford president Robert McNamara realized that the Thunderbird’s key potential could easily be unleashed by adding a second row of seats in the back. The strategy worked, resulting in sales doubling from newfound practicality. Consequently, the Thunderbird instantly became larger, heavier, and handling suffered due to the excess girth. The earliest Thunderbirds could be considered sports cars, but by 1958 they were more accurately described as power cruisers. By the early 1960s, this theme was further expanded with a complete redesign in 1961.

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1963 Ford Thunderbird Sports Roadster Specifications

1963 Ford Thunderbird Sports Roadster

Robert McNamara’s strategy to make the Ford Thunderbird a larger platform was in full swing by 1963, but designers still tried to restore a vague resemblance of the model’s original glory as a roadster in the mid-1950s. The Sports Roadster’s interior was essentially their solution to that, highlighted by a distinctive fiberglass tonneau cover that sat over the rear seats, giving the illusion of a two-seater sports car. Illusion is not a term to be taken lightly with this strategy, as the entire package weighed in at 4,563 pounds. Not exactly the type of gear you want for cornering advantage, but to each their own. Power came from a Ford M-Code 390ci V8 producing 300 hp mated to a Cruise-O-Matic 3-speed transmission. This was not necessarily an improvement, as the 1957 F-Code Thunderbirds were given the same figure via a Paxton supercharger and were also significantly lighter than the 1963 models.

As an interesting side note, the 1962 version of the Thunderbird Sports Roadster, the first year of this package, had offered a set of Kelsey-Hayes wire wheels to further disguise this leviathan as a sports car. These wheels were actually the most expensive option in the entire equipment package, weighing in at an additional $372.30 ($3,625.81 in 2022 dollars). Despite this, the wire wheels became very problematic and had several problems with both air retention and carrying the massive weight of the car itself. A notable incident involved none other than Elvis Presley, who happened to be driving a Sports Roadster in 1962 when one of the wheels collapsed on a hard corner. This single incident caused Ford engineers to rethink the entire design after Elvis’ Thunderbird’s flaws made national headlines, resulting in most 1963 Thunderbirds being sold with steel wheels.

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1963 Ford Thunderbird Sport Roadster: What to Expect in the Market

1963 Ford Thunderbird Sports Roadster

All in all, not all versions of the Sports Roadster were nearly as popular as Ford had envisioned when this trim level was first introduced in 1962. Only 1,427 cars were sold in that initial year, compared to just 455 in 1963. In short, the Thunderbird Sports Roadster was just a brief experiment on Ford’s behalf to see if the public would be willing to accept nostalgia even after they had upsized the T-Bird. Had they reduced the size of the car itself, things might have changed, although Ford in this era was focused on creating a completely different small, performance-oriented car, the Mustang. Nevertheless, the T-Bird only continued to grow in size, but with a more direct focus on luxury rather than performance, as evidenced by the four-door models that appeared in the late 1960s and lasted until 1972.

Because of these low production figures, the value of the 1963 Ford Thunderbird Sports Roadster is certainly among the highest in the Thunderbird line for this time period. Depending on condition, these cars can be had for well into the six-figure range, although some examples can be had for around $40,000. As always, a wide range of factors affect the overall pricing of a classic, from overall condition, originality, degree and quality of restoration, and historical significance.

Sources: Thunderbirdclub, Hemmings, Bring a Trailer


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